From western forts to Victorian mansions and pivotal battlegrounds, the Texas Historical Commission's 20 state historic sites exemplify a breadth of Texas history. Come explore the real stories at the real places.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Dog Days of Summer at Varner-Hogg

By Angela Pfeiffer, Curator at Varner-Hogg Plantation

Pets and people came out to Varner-Hogg Plantation State Historic Site on July 31 to make the most of the summer sun during the site’s Dog Days of Summer celebration. Named for the days that Sirius, the Dog Star, was believed to be responsible for the hot summer weather, visitors and their furry friends were invited to spend the evening strolling several doggie walking trails while enjoying a variety of canine activities. 

The festivities began with the opening of the trails and a special dog park that included toys, watering stations, and plenty of running space for rambunctious pooches and their owners. After exploring the site, families took part in the Dog Days Doggie Dress-Up Contest where fashionable Fidos, and even one cat, strutted their stuff before a panel of judges. First prize for best costume was awarded to Bailey the Golden Retriever, who wore a stylish red dress and matching bows. 

The highlight of the evening, however, was the much-anticipated agility competition, where family members cheered on their favorite furry athletes as participants endured a grueling climb up a see-saw and a test of skill and speed through a line of weave poles. The course concluded with a gravity-defying high-jump hurdle, scaled by only the most determined racers. The competition was fierce, but in the end, the prize for top dog went to Copper for a record time of 13 seconds. 

After enjoying a refreshing water and snack break, animals and owners alike wrapped up the day’s events by wandering through an exhibit about the many pets that have called the plantation home over the years, such as Miss Ima’s dog Buttons, Napoleon the horse, and Governor Hogg’s goose Polly. All in all, the afternoon was very eventful as everyone made new memories and new friends, and went home with a doggie bag of tasty puppy treats and the determination to be top dog in 2012.

Special thanks to Petsmart for donating the great prizes for our dress-up and agility contests!

Varner-Hogg Plantation is located approximately 60 miles south of Houston and is part of the Texas Independence Trail Region.

Monday, August 15, 2011

How Texans Stayed Cool in the 1800s

By Jeff Campbell and Megan Maxwell, site staff

During a hot Texas summer, when temperatures soar to the 100s, staying cool rises to the top of a Texan’s priority list. With central air systems for our homes and air conditioning in our cars, beating the summer heat is not the challenge it was more than100 years ago. So how did Texans from the late-1800s and early 1900s keep cool?

Maplecroft, the centerpiece of the Starr Family Home State Historic Site, was built in 1871. Many of its architectural elements are found in other homes of this area to help residents deal with the summer heat.

Entering the house, the first thing to notice is the long main hallway with two rooms off to each side. This long hallway has a door on each end. When these doors were opened, it allowed the south-facing home to draw a breeze through the main hallway.

Standing in the hallway, it’s also easy to notice the high ceilings in the home. At 12 feet tall, they are much higher than ceilings in modern homes. These high ceilings allowed the warm air to rise, as cool air is heavier than warm air.

Entering one of the four rooms off the main hallway, there is a noticeable window above each door. This window is known as a transom. The transom can be opened to allow air to circulate throughout the house when the doors are closed.

Standing in the room, there are two noticeable elements to keep the house cool. The first is double-hung windows. The bottom window can be raised and the top window lowered to allow circulation of air throughout the room. The second is shutters, which were used to block the hot rays of the sun.

These are some of the main architectural elements that were used to keep cool in an age before air conditioning and electricity.

Starr Family Home is located in Marshall on the corner of Travis and S. Grove streets, in the Texas Forest Trail Region.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Texas Wildfires Get Dangerously Close to Fort Griffin

By Mitch Baird, Site Manager

A wildfire broke out at Fort Griffin’s neighboring ranch, approximately one mile south of the site, on Tuesday, July 19. With winds shifting back and forth, there was a very good possibility that the wildfire might make it to Fort Griffin. Thanks to proper training and funding, the staff quickly switched from daily routines to emergency management. Firefighting equipment was readied, a hose was attached to the quick fill fire outlet, which was recently installed during the winter campground restoration project, and handheld radios were tuned to the fire department channels while vehicle radios remained on the THC channel. And then we waited.

As we listened to the firefighters, it gave me time to think about the past year’s training. Just last month, during our monthly safety meeting, we covered structure fires and fire extinguishers. This past winter we had a controlled burn, which gave the staff hands-on training with the firefighting equipment and experience with an actual fire. 

I reminded the staff that they were not to put themselves in danger if the fire jumped the line and came onto THC property. Their safety was far more important than anything else. Luckily, the fire turned east and moved away from Fort Griffin. Air support in the form of helicopters soon arrived, drawing water from local tanks and the Clear Forks of the Brazos River, dropping it on hot spots.

By nightfall the wildfire was 100 percent contained, with 1,700 acres burnt. We were thankful that we once again dodged the wildfire bullet. But thanks to proper training and funding, we stand ready in case we are not so lucky next time.

Fort Griffin State Historic Site is located 15 miles north of Albany on U.S. Hwy 283, in the Texas Forts Trail Region.